Dorothy has lived experience of multiple needs. She has provided a snapshot of her life below, including the journey she has been on to get to where she is today; a passionate and committed member of the Fulfilling Lives Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham team.
“As a child I was cripplingly shy. I was bright but lacked the confidence and self-belief to make the most of that fact. I had friends, but mostly tried to stay out of the focus of other people's attentions. I read a lot. I think this was my earliest form of escapism before I discovered drugs and alcohol.
I lived at home with my mum and dad who loved me but struggled with issues around their mental health. They both suffer with depression and anxiety disorders. My elder brother was addicted to heroin, he was unpredictable and that could be frightening because I didn't understand why his moods and behaviours could swing the way they did. The atmosphere in the house was strained and uncomfortable as my mum and dad did their best to cope with their own issues as well as the spiralling needs of my brother.
I found drugs and alcohol at the age of 14. At first, they did wonders, they gave me the confidence I felt lacking. I dropped out of school, moved out of home and began squatting; I found others like me and we formed strong bonds.
Move on 10 years however, and things had deteriorated. I was homeless, sleeping under the pier in Brighton, pregnant, begging outside the 24hr shop to get money for crack and heroin, with a warrant out for my arrest. I was deeply distressed and traumatised from things I had experienced and mistrustful of the system. I was angry at my situation and could be outwardly aggressive and hostile, but really, I was just scared, not wanting to engage with support as I had seen my friends lose their children to social services in the past.
Eventually my son was born, social services stepped in, and I was forced to engage. I had a mixed experience. The system itself felt rigid and unforgiving (I was turned down for funding by the drug service as they decided that I wasn’t ready for detox and rehab), but some of the professionals I met were truly wonderful people who advocated for me, and worked creatively, looking for alternatives. They helped me to see my potential, and ultimately led me to recovery and my son being returned to my care. I am so grateful for this and know this isn’t the experience of many women. I never forget I am one of the lucky ones.
Change and moving into recovery is difficult. You gain a lot, but you also have to make sacrifices. I had to leave people behind that I loved. I had to make the decision to fight for my son. It might be hard to hear but it wasn’t a straightforward one. To do this I had choose to let go of his dad who had been in my life for years and had done his best to look after me and keep me safe, but wasn’t ready to address his issues.
These are big decisions and shouldn’t be underestimated, nor should they be judged. If people don’t do what you think is the obvious choice in a situation, you can be sure that they have their reasons for it.
This difficult period in my life moulded me into the Support Worker I’ve become. It underpins my values and the belief I have in people's ability to transform their lives. I understand the importance of building relationships, and that these relationships take time. If you come in with pre-conceived ideas of what someone should be doing or with your own agenda, you run the risk of losing people.
The professionals that were able to reach me, didn’t ask me to do anything nor did they expect anything back. They empowered me by listening, sharing information, and being themselves. I appreciated honesty, compassion, and a good sense of humour.
Joining Fulfilling Lives Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham allowed me to work in a way that I knew had helped me. I have had the privilege of working with a team who come from different backgrounds, and bring a wealth of varying knowledge, but share the same values and beliefs. We have the time and flexibility to get to know our beneficiaries, we’re able to listen to their experiences, hear what their lives have been like, and what does and doesn’t work for them. Then we can do our best to have their voices heard, advocating on their behalf when we need to, and encouraging the system to try and adjust to meet their needs rather than the other way around.
We work alongside the most marginalised people in society; it’s been unique, and it’s been challenging. Working with trauma is exhausting and can be triggering at times, but I’ve met some incredible people surviving complicated lives and feel that as a programme we really do make a difference.”